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My renting 'reliables'

the rented spade

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Following our recent move to a new rental I was asked by a rented spade reader Chris 'What are your renting reliables?'

This question set me on a stock take of our rented garden. I pottered around the garden noting down what I consider to be my 'renting reliables' - plants I'm always growing or attempting to grow. Two things were revealed to me during my garden stock take. Firstly, I'm worried I'm going to be forced to appear on some horrible hoarders reality TV show due to the large amount of potted plants I've accumulated. Secondly, it appears that my 'renting reliables'  fall into three categories - always there, always replanting  and seasonal. Let me explain...

Always there
These are my long term perennial type plants. The plants that last more than a season, a few months of a year if well maintained. In this category are evergreens as well as deciduous plants (those plants that you thought were dead in winter and then magically bounce back).  My potted 'always there' plants include fruits such as strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, olive, dwarf citrus and kaffir lime. Then there are herbs and veg staples of bay, sorrel, varieties of thyme and sage, my tiny curry tree, chilies, rosemary, tarragon, lemon verbena, chamomile, oregano and elder flower. I keep flowering plants that are easy to grow from cuttings such as geraniums, lavender, succulents and special celebration plants such as a potted Christmas tree and poinsettia which I can trout out at Christmas saving me money. Then I have the 'always there' indoor reliables that are low care and tolerate low light such as lilies, ferns and of course my jade money tree for good luck.

Many a gardening guru will try to convince you these plants are immortal.  Sure there are things you can do to prolong plant life but unless they are from an alien world that has discovered how to live forever, your plant will die eventually. Of course we feel bad if we bring about our perennial plant's early demise, but it is important to remember that it is more challenging to grow plants for any extended time in pots. Most plants are meant to be in the ground spreading their roots and one really can't compete with mother nature so don't be too hard on yourself. This is why it is so important to keep an ever vigilant eye on your potted perennials, refreshing the soil and re-potting when needed.

Always replanting
The first great 'a-ha' moment I had gardening was coming to terms with succession planting. You see, most of the lovely herbs we savour all year round actually have a short life span. Yet some how we've come to expect the punnets of herbs we buy from the garden centre to act like Willy Wonka's ever lasting gob stopper; continuing to produce a bounty for us all year round and never dying back. Alas reality is different. You plant a seed, it grows, it tries to reproduce (i.e. goes to seed) and then it dies. Just like with perennials we can prolong this process but there is no magic elixir. The only secret to having an endless bounty of herbs on hand is... planting an endless bounty of herbs. Throw in climate sensitivity and growing these guys gets harder. However, if you are growing in pots you have an advantage - mobility. I'm constantly checking out the micro-climate around these types of plants to see if I need to move my pots to a more protected or warmer spot to slow down the life cycle.

My 'always replanting' category includes chives, varieties of mint and parsley, and other more temperature sensitive herbs such as dill, basil and coriander. Lettuce or other salad greens are also a high priority because they grow quickly, taste better fresh and can save you lots of money. Plus leafy greens such as lettuce don't need as much sun as man other edibles (meaning you will always find a suitable spot in even the smallest dimly light rental).

Even the most Jedi-like gardener will only be able to grow endless bounties of annuals within the confines of the climate where they live. Enter the seasonal, more climate sensitive veg that though we may eat all year round, are really only possible for us passionate garden enthusiasts to grow in season. Well, unless you happen to have an amazing hydroponic or glasshouse set up.

There are so many seasonal veg that you can choose to grow, the hardest part  is prioritising. Living in southern Australia, summer is on its last legs here so that means the end of the tomatoes, zucchinis, eggplants and cucumbers. I personally avoid pumpkin because they are so cheap in the shops to buy. There are summer beans but also many other types that do well across different seasons. Beans are great for renters taking up little space, with high yields and can be co-planted easily.  Carrots, beetroot and onions can come in all sorts of varieties to suit different seasons, the trick is just getting to know your climate.

Peas are great for renters when the weather starts to turn cold again. As if the pretty flowers of peas weren't enough incentive, they have a high yield for their size, can be co-planted and then the stalks used for mulch afterwards. For winter veg in southern Australia many renters I know grow brassicas such as cauliflower, broccoli and then there are different types of cabbage. I try something new each winter to keep it interesting. This year as I'm living in a colder climate I'm going to try Tuscan kale (cavolo nero).  I find cabbages take so long and use up too much space in my rented garden so in past winter have opted for loose head cabbages and then there was that winter of too many turnips and swedes...

With limited space in a rental we really have to prioritise what we grow.  If you have trouble choosing what to grow or not, then maybe my own criteria can help you decide. While I'm always trying to grow something new, the majority of what I choose to grow is based on 1) how much space it needs, 2) how well the plant does in a pot, and most importantly 3) is it something that will save me money and that I love to eat!


Garden, gardening, reliable, renter gardening